Galen Djuna Green comes alive this time of year. When I catch her on a dark, rainy morning, she’s quick to describe the wicked Krampus costumes that she, her boyfriend and a group of similarly mischievous friends are cooking up for Halloween parties this week. Krampus, for those of you who don’t know, is the evil creature who accompanies St. Nicholas on his holiday rounds, birch-whipping kids and stealing some away for snacks at a later point. “I like to get really dressed up as many times as possible,” Green says.
But we haven’t stopped in on her to speak about spooky times. Instead, we’ve been drawn by her thriving Etsy-based business selling what she calls “Knitty Titties” and other crocheted finger-puppets and miniature items to a growing crowd of collectors – as well as her increasing penchant for larger puppetlike sculpture pieces, all slightly macabre. Green, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), maintains her burgeoning art career while enjoying her enviable day job arranging flowers at the Green Cottage in High Falls.
But first things first. On Etsy, Green’s known as Galen Djuna, and her Knitty Titties line includes miniature Bride of Frankensteins, Jane Mansfields, strippers, Chesty Morgans, Kalis, Joan Hollaways (from Mad Men), punk/rockers, Betty Paiges and two-headed ladies – all with removable bras. Separately, Green does commissions like the Maggie Smiths that she has created for a fan of Downton Abbey, as well as a Marie Antoinette with removable head. For a recent doll show she created a dancing Macavity Cat, based on the same T. S. Eliot children’s work that inspired the long-running musical Cats (of which the artist isn’t so fond), as well as an Alice in Wonderland with elongating neck.
During a vacation to Vienna last spring, Galen Djuna Green created spiderwomen puppets. She mused on the Central European Hapsburgian ethos that inspired her point of inspiration for years, and the great Czech stop-motion filmmaker and maker of puppets from everything and anything (including pieces of meat), Jan Svankmajer. Over the last month she has made it down to the New York City retrospective for the Brothers Quay, a Svankmajer-inspired pair of twins also working in surreal worlds of filmed puppetry.
How long has she been at all of this? “My parents are both artists. My Dad’s a painter,” Green says of growing up in Ulster County and always having a thing for art. “When I went to RISD I majored in Film and Animation, and had a great teacher from Poland who introduced me to puppetry… but then I discovered that I liked building miniatures more than making films, so I started looking on what I did as sculpture.”
The crocheted finger-puppets started when she took up the craft alongside her friend, the artist Lora Shelley, who had started a line of crocheted cat toys on Etsy. She and Shelley began meeting up at the home of writer/editor/librarian Erica Freudenberger. “We’d have crafternoons,” she recalls. “Then I started putting my own puppets up on Etsy, and they just sort of took off.”
Originally an arts-and-crafts version of eBay with a small business enterprising attitude based in Brooklyn, Etsy has recently gone public and moved to Hudson. It’s considered one of the business models for a new arts-based economy, even as its founder, 30-something Rob Kalin, now shifts his attention to a newer, younger-oriented business model possibly basing itself in Catskill. “Etsy is great, Green says.
But what next with her art, we ask, beyond Halloween Krampuses and Knitty Titties?
Knitty Titties writ large, comes the answer. “I’ve always been in love with both the extremely miniature and the very, very large,” she said, revealing a deeper Alice in Wonderland influence than just a few puppet dolls. “I’m looking at how to make the crocheted nudie puppets very big, almost like giant blow-up dolls…”
Furthermore, she says, she’s now eyeing a return to animated filmmaking with a version of Gulliver’s Travels featuring her knit ladies. “It’s one thing to do well with Halloween items and Christmas ornaments, tree-toppers and commissions,” Galen Djuna Green adds, “but I’d love to have a gallery in the city.”
For more on Galen Djuna Green and her crocheted finger-puppets, commissions, dolls and other sculpture, visit her “store” at www.etsy.com/shop/galendjuna or her ongoing (and very creative) blog at www.galendjuna.wordpress.com.